William Nelson Cromwell

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William Nelson Cromwell
William Nelson Cromwell I.jpg
Born (1854-01-17)January 17, 1854
Brooklyn, New York
Died July 19, 1948(1948-07-19) (aged 94)
Nationality American
Alma mater Columbia Law School
Occupation Lawyer
Employer Sullivan & Cromwell
Net worth $15 million
($150 million inflation-adjusted)
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Jennie Osgood Nichols
Parent(s) Sarah M. Brokaw and John Nelson Cromwell

William Nelson Cromwell (January 17, 1854 – July 19, 1948) was an American attorney active in promotion of the Panama Canal and other major ventures.

Life and career[edit]

He was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in an Episcopalian household, by his mother, Sarah M. Brokaw, a Civil War widow. His father, John Nelson Cromwell, died in the Battle of Vicksburg.

He worked as an accountant for the attorney Algernon Sydney Sullivan, who paid for his education at Columbia Law School and made him a partner in Sullivan & Cromwell in 1879.

According to Stephen Kinzer's 2006 book Overthrow, in 1898 the chief of the French Canal Syndicate (a group that owned large swathes of land across Panama), Philippe Bunau-Varilla, hired him to lobby the US Congress to build a canal across Panama, and not across Nicaragua, as rivals would have it.

On June 19, 1902, three days after senators received stamps showing volcanic activity in Nicaragua (although this was more the work of Philippe Bunau-Varilla), they voted for the Panama route for the canal. For his lobbying efforts, he received the sum of $800,000.[1] (about 20 million USD today) After the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty was ratified, Cromwell was paid another $2,000,000 (about 60 million USD today) – at the time, the highest amount ever paid to a lawyer.[2]

By 1907, he was a member of the Consolidated Stock Exchange of New York, one of around 13,000.[3]

One of his main pro bono activities was in the founding of "the Society of Friends of Roumania" in 1920 under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Marie of Romania, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Under his tutelage, the New York-based Society promoted numerous exchanges between the two countries and published the distinguished Roumania – A Quarterly Review.


  1. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (2006). Overthrow: America's century of regime change from Hawaii to Iraq. New York: Henry Holt and Company. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-8050-8240-9. 
  2. ^ LAWYER WHO GOT A $2,000,000 FEE, in the Tacoma Times; published March 2, 1904; retrieved January 27, 2015 (via Chronicling America
  3. ^ Armstrong Nelson, Samuel (1907), The Consolidated Stock Exchange of New York: Its History, Organization, Machinery and Methods, p. 19-23, retrieved February 6, 2017 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mellander, Gustavo A. (1971). The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville, IL: Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568. 
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Mellander, Nelly Maldonado (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4.